How Can IT’s Analytics Help with Business Forecasting?

In many companies, most departments don’t have a lot of opportunities to communicate to each other. Unless there’s a problem that involves multiple parties, only the department heads are presenting information about changes or trends. But the next time any department needs to work on forecasting, see if your IT experts can help. They have insight into a lot of valuable areas, including:

How Much Your Website Traffic Is Increasing

You need to know how many people are going to your business’s website. While Marketing may have the numbers behind visits generated through ad campaigns, they may not know the metrics behind all of the traffic. Ask your IT department for detailed information about surges in activity. This can tell you a lot about seasonality, how high traffic patterns correspond to or differ from high sales periods, and more.

If Your Technology Is No Longer Up to the Task

Even better, the IT department can tell you when high traffic surges and internal activity leads to network outages. It’s almost impossible to measure the expense of even an hour of downtime, but it can range from the tens of thousands of dollars to millions depending on the size of your company. Factor network expansions, server costs, and hardware updates into your annual budget. You should also account for the increased likelihood of hacks and malware.

How to Make Sense of the Data

Every department uses spreadsheets and data. But most departments don’t have people trained in reading that data outside of the narrow focus of their job. IT professionals, whether they focus on cybersecurity or desktop support, often have to have Excel and MySQL qualifications to get the jobs in the first place. If the raw data doesn’t make sense, turn to IT. They may also have the keys and license codes to the legacy software designed to read it.

IT departments don’t just provide anti-virus software and support. They have access to a wealth of logistical information that your business needs. Make sure they’re included in your major meetings and decisions.

IT in the Insurance Industry Now

The effects of IT in the insurance industry have been very broad. People who interact with the insurance industry at all levels will see how it has been influenced by the rise of information technology.

Customer Service

All businesses need to have high customer service standards, and it’s especially important for insurance companies to emphasize customer service. Information technology has certainly made this easier.

In the modern world, customers can purchase insurance online. For a lot of people, this is much easier than trying to do the same thing in person. This process is paperless and can be conducted from any location.

Customers can more or less manage everything related to their insurance policies online in the modern world, which makes it easier for them to work with the insurance companies in question every step of the way.

Getting New Leads

In the insurance industry, information technology is particularly important when it comes to lead generation. With modern information technology, it’s possible to generate leads on a broad level and in a particularly convenient manner.

Targeted Marketing

Information technology has also made it easier for insurance companies to target very specific demographics. People will have very different needs when it comes to insurance based on their family structure, age range, health status, and many other factors.

As such, the fact that information technology makes it even easier to reach out to groups of individuals selectively can truly make all the difference for the companies that are trying to use the money that they have set aside for marketing wisely.

Insurance Types

Amazing Facts about the Internet of Things

As technology advances, the Internet of Things (IoT) is becoming part of our daily lives. More and more people are using smart devices in their home. Smart glasses, self-driving cars and home automation are no longer a dream. Here are a few interesting facts about the Internet of Things, according to Motley Fool and Forbes.

By 2021, IoT is expected to be an industry worth $1.4 trillion, as companies invest in software, hardware and other services. According to General Electric, over $60 billion is expected to be invested in Industrial IoT products and devices by 2030.

In 2020, it is expected that there will be 24 billion IoT devices, according to BI Intelligence. Most will be used by businesses and governments, but a large portion (five billion) will be used by consumers.

Also in 2020, around a quarter of a billion vehicles are expected to be connected to the internet. Over 10 million units of clothing connected to the internet are expected to be shipped in that year as well.

By 2024, 27 billion machine-to-machine connections are expected to be made, with the bulk of them in China and the United States. Almost a quarter of large global enterprises were using IoT last year, according to Forrester Research, though a good percentage of smaller and mid-sized businesses (14 percent) were using it as well.

Want to know more? Check out the original lists on Motley Fool and Forbes.

How Blockchain Is Relevant to Modern Business

It’s a digital world, and we’re all throwing around terms like “bitcoin” and “cloud computing” without really understanding what’s going on behind the scenes. But these background details are exactly what’s revolutionizing modern industry. Blockchain is one of these critical background features.

What is Blockchain?

Blockchain is a technology that has arrived to shake up digital records as we know them. A type of database, blockchain contains each record, transaction or dataset within a single block, linking all of these blocks to each other with a peer-to-peer network. Each block is dependent on the one before it, and therefore no block can be retroactively edited without drastically editing the rest of the chain, an impossible task.

This is critical because the ledger is both public and completely secure, making it ideal for storage of medical records, monetary transactions or account details. Bitcoin was the first to successfully integrate a blockchain and triumphantly solved the double spending problem (in which a digital currency file is duplicated and counterfeited).

Blockchain Revolution

Currently, the most promising applications of the blockchain are finance applications such as digital wallets and identities. Banks and digital transaction providers would benefit from cutting out middle men, and users would place greater trust in a system that can’t be corrupted.

The beauty of blockchain lies in this: imagine a stock payment. The money can change hands within seconds, but the actual ownership takes longer to determine since the two parties are unable to access each other’s ledger and must instead rely on a middle man to confirm the existence of the stock and update the individual ledgers. But with blockchain, each involved party is part of a larger ledger and confirms ownership immediately. It opens the door to a world of possibilities.


IBM is one of many companies stepping into the world of public ledgers. It currently offers the ability to form an IBM Blockchain network and create ways to take advantage of its offerings through business solutions.

Blockchain

Completely Free ILEditor and IBM Technology Refresh Recap

Today I’ll look at a powerful open source (and completely free!) IDE for ILE programs (CL, C/C++, Cobol or RPG) named ILEditor that is being actively developed by Liam Allan who is one of the brightest minds in the industry. In fact, last week Allan added a new GUI interface to the editor that makes it feel much more professional, while keeping it easy to use. I’ll also give you a quick overview of the announcement IBM made last week about updates to IBM i 7.2 and 7.3.

The IBM Announcement

On February 13th, just in time for Valentine’s Day (because IBM wants to be my valentine!), IBM announced new Technology Refreshes. These include support for POWER9 processors, which look incredible – but, alas, I’m not a hardware guy. They also include updates to Integrated Web Services (IWS), Access Client Solutions (ACS), RPG and more.
Here are links to the official announcements:

IBM i 7.2 Technology Refresh 8 (TR8)

IBM i 7.3 Technology Refresh 4 (TR4)

You should also check out Steve Will’s blog post.

My Thoughts

The most exciting part of this announcement for me is the introduction of the new DATA-INTO opcode in RPG. Here’s the sample code that IBM provided in the announcement:

DATA-INTO myDs %DATA(‘myfile.json’ : ‘doc=file’) %PARSER(‘MYLIB/MYJSONPARS’);

It appears that this will work similarly to Open Access, where the RPG compiler will examine your data structure and other variables that it has all the details for and work together with a back-end handler that will map it into a structured format. Open Access refers to the back-end program as a “handler”, whereas DATA-INTO seems to call it a “parser”, but the general idea is the same.

As someone who has written multiple open source tools to help RPG developers work with XML and JSON documents, this looks great! One of the biggest challenges I face with these open source projects is that they don’t know the details of the calling program’s variables, so they can’t ever be as easy to use as a tool like XML-INTO. For example, the YAJL tools that I provide to help people read JSON documents require much more code than the XML-INTO opcode, because XML-INTO can read the layout of a data structure and map data into it, whereas with YAJL you must map this data yourself. However, DATA-INTO looks like it will solve this problem, so that once I’ve had time to write a DATA-INTO parser, you’ll be able to use YAJL the same way as XML-INTO.

Unfortunately, as I write this, the PTFs are not yet available, so I haven’t been able to try it. I’m very excited, however, and plan to blog about it as soon as I’ve had a chance to try it out!

What is ILEditor?

ILEditor (pronounced “I-L-Editor”) came from the mind of Liam Allan, who is one of the best and the brightest of the 2018 IBM Champions. I have the privilege of working with Liam at Profound Logic Software, and I can tell you that his enthusiasm for computer technology and IBM i programming know no bounds. In fact, one day last week after work, Liam sent me a text message about his new changes to ILEditor, sounding very excited. When I factored in the time zone difference, I realized it was 1:00 a.m. where he lives!

For many years, one of the most common laments in the IBM i programming community has been about the cost and performance of RDi. Please don’t misunderstand me. I love RDi, and I use it every day. I believe RDi is the best IDE for IBM i development that’s available today. That said, sometimes we need something else for various reasons. Some shops can’t get approval for the cost of RDi. Others might want something that uses fewer resources or something they can install anywhere without needing additional RDi licenses. Whatever the reason, ILEditor is very promising alternative! I wouldn’t be surprised if it eventually is able to compete with RDi.

Why Not Orion? Or SEU?

The concept of Orion is a great. It’s web-based, meaning that you don’t have to install it and it’s available wherever you go. Unfortunately, it’s not really a full IDE – at least not yet! I hope IBM is working to improve it. It does not know how to compile native ILE programs or show compile errors. Its interface is designed around the Git version control software, which makes it tricky to use unless you happen to store your code in Git. And quite frankly, it’s also a little bit buggy. I hope to see improvements in these areas, but right now it’s not a real option.

The most popular alternative to RDi today is SEU. In fact, historically this was the primary way that code was written for IBM i. So, you may think it’s still a good choice. However, I don’t think it’s viable today for two reasons:

  1. The green-screen nature makes it cumbersome to use. This is no problem for a veteran programmer, because they’re used to it. But for IT departments to survive, they need to bring in younger talent. Younger talent is almost always put off by SEU. I even know students who gave up the platform entirely because they thought SEU seemed so antiquated, and they wanted no part of it.
  2. SEU hasn’t received any updates since January 2008. That means all features added to RPG in the past 10 years – which includes three major releases of the operating system –will show as syntax errors in SEU.

About ILEditor

ILEditor is open source, runs on Windows and was released as open source under the GNU GPL 3.0 license. That means it is free and can be used for both private and commercial use. If you like, you can even download the source code and make your own changes. It can read source from source members or IFS files. In addition to editing the source, it can compile programs, show you the errors in your programs, work with system objects and display spooled files. It even has an Outline View (like RDi does) that will show you the variables and routines in your program.

The main web site for ILEditor is: worksofbarry.com/ileditor/.

If you want to see the source code, you’ll find the Github project here.

You do not need to install any software on your IBM i to use ILEditor. Instead, the Windows program uses the standard FTP server that is provided with the IBM i operating system to get object and source information and to run compile commands. An FTPES (FTP over SSL) option is provided if a more secure connection is desired.

Connecting for the First Time

When you start ILEditor, it will present you with a box where you can select the host to connect to. Naturally, the first time you run it there will be no hosts defined, so the box will be empty. You can click “New Host” to define one.

Once you have a host defined, it will be visible as an icon, and double-clicking the icon will begin the connection.

When you set up a new system, there are five fields you must supply, as shown in the screenshot below:

Alias name = You can set this to whatever you wish. ILEditor will display this name when asking you the host to connect to, so pick something that is easy to remember.

Host name / IP address = the DNS name or IP address of the IBM i to connect to.

Username = Your IBM i user profile name.

Password = Your IBM i password – you can leave this blank if you want it to ask you every time you connect.

Use FTPES = This stands for FTP over Explicit SSL. Check this box if your IBM i FTP server has been configured to allow SSL and you’d like the additional security of using an encrypted connection.

The Main IDE Display

Once you’ve connected, you’ll be presented with a screen that shows the “Toolbox” on the left and a welcome screen containing getting started information and developer news, as shown in the screenshot below.

Any of the panels in ILEditor, including these two, can dragged to different places on the display or closed by clicking the “X” button in the corner of the panel. There is also an icon of a pin that you can click to toggle whether a panel is always open or whether it is hidden when you’re not using it. If you look carefully on the right edge of the window, you’ll see a bar titled “Outline View”. This is an example of a hidden panel. If you click on the panel title, the panel will open. If you click the pin, it will stay open. You can adjust the size of any panel by dragging its border.

When you open source code, it will be placed in tabs in the center of the display (just as the welcome screen is initially.) These can also be resized or moved with the mouse. This makes the UI very flexible and simple to rearrange to best fit your needs.

The Toolbox

Perhaps the best place to start is with the toolbox.  Here’s what that panel looks like:

Most of the options in this panel are self-explanatory. I will not explain them all but will point out a few interesting things that I discovered when using ILEditor:

  • The “Library List” is primarily used when compiling a program. This is the library list to find file definitions and other dependencies that your program will need.
  • The “Compile Settings” lets you customize your compile commands. Perhaps you have a custom command you use when compiling. Or perhaps you use the regular IBM commands but want to change some of the options used. In either case, you’ll want to look at the Compile Settings.
  • As you might expect, “Connection Settings” has the host name, whether to use FTPES and other settings that are needed to connect to the host. In addition to that, there are some other useful options hidden away in the connection settings:
    • On the IFS tab, you’ll find a place to configure where your IFS source code is stored and which library it should be compiled into.
    • On the Editor tab, there is a setting to enable the “Outline View”. You’ll want to make sure this is checked, otherwise you’ll be missing out on this feature.
    • On the ILEditor tab, there’s a setting called “Use Dark Mode”. This will change the colors when it displays your source code to use a black background (as opposed to the default white background), which many people, myself included, find easier on the eyes.
  • When you change something in the “Connection Settings” (including the options described above), you will need to disconnect from the server and reconnect so that the new settings take effect.

Opening Source Code from a Member List

ILEditor allows you to open source code from either an IFS file or a traditional source member. You can use the Member Browser or IFS Browser options in the toolbox to browse your IBM i to find the source you wish to open and open it.

The Member Browser opens as a blank panel with two text fields at the top. At first, I wasn’t sure exactly what these were for as there wasn’t any explanation. I guessed that this was where you specified the library (on the left) and the source physical file (on the right) that you wanted to browse. Iit turned out that I was correct. If you type the library and filename and click the magnifying glass, it will show you all the members in that file.

I have a lot of source members that I keep in my personal library, and I often get impatient waiting for the member list to load in RDi. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the member browser in ILEditor loads considerably faster.

There is also a “hidden” feature where you can press Ctrl-P to search the list of recent members that you listed in the member browser. Just press Ctrl-P and start typing, and it’ll show the members that match the search string. This was a very convenient way to find members.

Once you’ve found the member (in either the regular member browser or the “search recent” dialog), you can double-click on the member name to open it.

Create or Open a Member Without Browsing

In the upper-left of the ILEditor window, there is a File menu that works like the file menus found in most other Windows programs. You can click File/New to create a new member or IFS file or File/Open to open an existing member or IFS file when you know the name and therefore don’t need to browse for it.

The File Menu also offers keyboard shortcuts to save time. You can press Ctrl-O for Open, or Ctrl-N for New to bypass the menu.

One thing that I found a little unusual is that you must specify the source type when you open an existing member. I expected this when creating a new member, since the system doesn’t know what it is. But when opening an existing member, I expected it to default to the source type of the member so that you don’t have to specify it every time. I discovered that if you do not specify the type, it will default to plain text. I spoke to Liam about this, and he assured me that this is something he plans to improve in the future. Thankfully, this is not the case when using the member browser. It only happens when opening the member directly.

Working with IFS Files

The IFS Browser can be used to browse the IFS on your IBM i and find the source code that you’d like to open. It will begin browsing the IFS in the directory that you’ve specified in the IFS tab in your connection settings. Any subdirectories found beneath that starting directory can be expanded as well to see the files inside of it.

Like the member browser, double-clicking on an IFS file will open it in the editor.

The File menu also has options for creating a new IFS file or opening an existing IFS file when you know the exact path name. In that case, you do have to type the entire IFS path. There is no option to browse folders as you’d find in the open dialogs of other Windows software. That didn’t seem like a problem to me. If I wanted to see the folders, I’d use the IFS browser instead.

The Source Editor

I found the editor to be very intuitive, since it works the same as you’d expect from a PC file editor. It provides syntax highlighting and an outline view that make the source code very easy to read. In the screenshot below, I’m using “dark mode”, so you’ll see that my source code has a black background.

 

Syntax highlighting worked very nicely in free format RPG, CL and C/C++ code, including code that used the embedded SQL preprocessor.

Unfortunately, it did not work in fixed format RPG code. Liam tells me that fixed format RPG is especially difficult to implement because he codes ILEditor’s syntax highlighting using regular expressions, and regular expressions are difficult to make work for position-dependent source. However, he assured me that he does plan to support fixed format RPG code and is working on solving this problem.

I noticed that I could still type fixed format code and make changes to it, and aside from the source not being colored correctly, it worked fine.

The Outline View was a pleasant surprise, because I wasn’t really expecting an editor other than RDi to have one. It does not have as many features as the RDi outline view, but it worked very nicely for what I needed it for. I was also pleasantly surprised that the Outline View worked with CL code.

Compiling Programs

The compile option can be run by using the Compile menu at the top of the screen, the compile icon (shown in the picture below) or by pressing Ctrl-Shift-C.

I discovered that the compile option does not ask for any parameters. Instead, it uses the options that you specified in your connection and compile settings options in the toolbar. So if you want to change one of the default compiler options, you need to change them in the compile settings each time.

There are advantages and disadvantages to this approach. The advantage is that it’s very quick and easy to compile a program. When you’re developing software, you often have to compile it many times, and it’s very nice to be able to skip the dialog and just have it compile. The disadvantage is when you want to do something different in a one-off situation. You have to go into the compile settings to change it, so that’s a little bit of extra work. However, I find that I don’t need to do that very often, so this wasn’t a big deal to me.

When an error occurs during the compile, an error listing will open showing you what went wrong, very similar to what you’d find in RDi. Like RDi, you can click on the error and it will position the editor to the exact line of code where the error was found.

One thing that surprised me about the compile and the error message dialog was that it is considerably faster than RDi. That seems strange to me, since both tools are connecting to the IBM i and running the same IBM compiler for RPG. However, I found that depending on the size of the member, the ILEditor compile was 10-20 seconds faster than the RDi one.

RPG Fixed Format to Free Format Converter

One feature of ILEditor that simply did not work well was the RPG converter. Some of the fixed format code in my program would convert, but other things (including things that should’ve converted easily) did not. Code that spanned multiple lines did not convert at all.

In my opinion, the converter needs a lot of work before it will be useful. I pointed this out to Liam, and he told me that he agrees and has a complete rewrite of the converter on his to-do list.

Other Features

I’d like to mention some of the other features of ILEditor that I did not have time to try out before writing this article. Since I didn’t have time, I can’t review them and give my opinion – but, I wanted to mention them. That way, if you’re looking for these features, you can give them a try yourself and see what you think.

  • Source Diff = compares two sources (members or IFS files) and highlights what is different about them.
  • Spooled File Viewer = Lets you view spooled files that are in an output queue
  • SQL Generator = Generates SQL DDL code from an existing database object
  • Offline mode = lets you download source from the IBM i to store on your PC and work on it while you are not connected (for example, when traveling on a plane or train without good internet access), uploading the results later.

My Conclusion

I was extremely impressed by ILEditor. RDi has more features, such as debugging, refactoring and screen/report design, but I was surprised at just how many features ILEditor has, considering it was written by one man in his free time and costing nothing. I was pleasantly surprised by the performance of ILEditor, which was consistently faster than RDi while using far less memory.

Unfortunately, the lack of syntax highlighting for fixed format RPG will be a problem for many RPG developers, and I sincerely hope that does not discourage them from at least trying ILEditor.

If a lot of people try it, and some of them donate money or give their time to help with development, this tool could easily become a serious competitor to RDi.

Staying Safe with the Internet of Things

Smart devices enabled by the Internet of Things (IoT) save cost and effort. Users can control them remotely, or they can automatically adjust themselves to the time of day or environment. At the same time, they present risks. Many have poor security. They’re easy to install and forget. It’s hard to notice when malware has infected a device, making it spy on your network or perform actions that could get your site blacklisted.

If you’re aware, you can keep risks to a minimum. Here are some methods that will help:

Keep Track of All Your Devices

You should have a complete inventory of the devices in your network, including models and serial numbers. You need to know why they’re there. If a device isn’t serving a useful purpose any longer, take it out of the network.

Change Default Passwords

Many IoT devices come with default passwords that are public information. Change them before exposing the devices to the Internet. If a device’s password can’t be changed, you need to think hard about whether it’s safe to use.

Limit Network Access

Use firewalls and network configuration to limit the exposure of devices. Don’t give them access to any part of the network they don’t need, especially servers with sensitive information.

Patch Where Possible

While many IoT devices can’t be patched, the better ones can. Keep their software up to date so vulnerabilities won’t stay open.

Monitor Your Network

If there are bursts of traffic you can’t account for, a device on the network may be infected. Find the source and take appropriate action.

Tiny as these devices are, they’re small computers. You need to treat them with the same care as any other computers on the network. Keep them secure, and they won’t cause problems.

The Impact of IT on the Banking Industry

All industries are being heavily influenced by new changes in information technology, and this is certainly true for the banking industry. There has been a lot of discussion about the influence of IT in the banking industry, and how it might fundamentally change the manner in which a lot of people perform banking transactions.

The Rise of Blockchain Technology

As blockchain technology becomes more and more common, there won’t be as many centralized banking systems. Many of the specific banking transactions that people perform will be faster as a result of blockchain technology, so this is something that plenty of bank customers might support. The fact that this technology will get so much consumer support should only make it more economically viable.

Paper Checks May Become Obsolete

A lot of people have already dropped paper checks in favor of making online payments. This is starting to become enough of a trend that paper checks may eliminated in the near future. In some countries, paper checks have already become a thing of the past.

Cash might be used more frequently than paper checks in the near future, but people are still starting to rely on cash less and less as well. Online payments are becoming convenient enough that most of the advantages associated with cash payments are disappearing.

Bitcoin and Similar Currencies Will Become More Popular

It’s clear that Bitcoin isn’t going anywhere, even though some people in the industry were skeptical of Bitcoin initially. Given how useful Bitcoin is when it comes to international banking, increasing rates of globalization should only make Bitcoin more relevant.

Many of the new technological changes should be positive for customers overall. They will also certainly have a huge effect on the experience of customers in general.

Study Shows IBM i Has Big Cost Advantage Over Alternatives

According to an August 2017 study conducted by Quark + Lepton, an independent research and management consulting firm, IBM i on Power Systems servers provides a substantial TCO (total cost of ownership) advantage over equivalent Windows or Linux platforms.

For the study, which was funded by IBM, Quark + Lepton used three different server/database configurations: an IBM Power Systems server running IBM i Operating System V7.3 with DB2, an x86 server running Windows Server 2016 and SQL Server 2016 and an x86 with Linux and Oracle Database 12c. TCO estimates were based on the costs of hardware acquisition and maintenance, OS and database licenses and support, system and database admin personnel salaries and facilities expenses. Several different use cases were analyzed.

A Big TCO Advantage

The results of the study showed the projected three-year TCO for the three setups to be as follows:

  • Power Systems/IBM i/DB2 – $430,815
  • x86/Windows/SQL Server – $1.18 million
  • x86/Linux/Oracle – $1.27 million

The study concludes that “costs for use of IBM i on Power Systems are lower across the board”. For example, initial hardware and software acquisition costs for the IBM i systems averaged 8% less than the Windows systems, and fully 24 % less than the Linux systems.

Perhaps the most surprising factor in the stark differential between the IBM i solution and the others was in the cost of required support staff. Based on a 300-user scenario, IBM i required 0.3 FTE (full time equivalent) support personnel, compared to 0.5 FTE for the Windows setup and 0.55 FTE for Linux.

But the biggest differential in staff costs arose from the fact that IBM i admins could handle both the OS and the database. Those double-duty IBM i personnel commanded salaries of about $86,000, while Windows and Linux sysadmins were paid $71,564 and $86,843 respectively. However, the Windows and Linux setups also required the support of separate database admins, adding $100,699 (SQL Server) and $103,283 (Oracle) to the personnel costs for those solutions.

Simplicity

In its conclusion the report notes that while the industry is trending toward ever-greater complexity, the simplicity of IBM i makes it by far the most cost-effective platform on which to base an organization’s IT infrastructure.

IT in Manufacturing: Industry 4.0

Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology have grown up side by side. Modern manufacturing equipment has been on a collision course with standard IT for decades as more computerization is added to the machine tools used in manufacturing. With the emergence of convergence between the technologies, the manufacturing sector is beginning to become more reliant on the same skills that have traditionally been used in IT. Along with the skill set of hardware technological support and programming support, IT leaders going forward will need to understand the operational mindset of the managers they interact with.

Metrics

Industry 4.0, an initiative that began in Germany in 2011, sometimes called Manufacturing 4.0, represents the convergence of activities. Manufacturing activities have always been metric centric. How many widgets can be made by a piece of equipment in a given time with what rate for rejected pieces is used to calculate the effective throughput of a given device. This calculation is added to the BOM (Bill of Material) and employed in planning calculations within MRP.

In the past, this information was manually determined and entered into the BOM. The Internet of Things (IOT) has created the means to provide this information electronically, allowing for better measurements and quicker reactions to variations than ever before.

Quality metrics based on the throughput and yield are also impacted by the ability to communicate this data in real-time. Sensors being built into systems that perform the SPC (Statistical Process Control) activity provide up to the minute data for analysis.

Production Line

Reporting

Still, this is only the beginning of the ways in which the data can be used. Data from these two areas can be used to create analytical studies for finance departments to better understand the depreciation and efficient use of capital investments. Engineers can design better more efficient processes and sales, forecasting and customer service departments can get more insightful information to provide customers better delivery dates, and inventory level information.

Operational leaders who are looking into or actively implementing robotic manufacturing depend heavily on interconnected systems with automated reporting to reduce cost and improve throughput in the manufacturing environment. Smart factories that practice Lean Manufacturing take advantage of the analytical reporting generated by the interconnected operations technology to shift labor and operational staff to areas to maximize their production staff and increase capacity.

Security

The adoption of IOT has resulted in more wired and wireless factory shopfloor connected devices, remote access, programming, and set-up operations. Manufacturing machines with embedded operating systems, usually have a “lite” version of the operating system with a limited capacity to configure and execute sophisticated commands. This lower technological threshold has resulted in security breaches which, if part of a fully connected network, lead major systems to be compromised. While it is IT Security’s responsibility to address these vulnerabilities, IT must also ensure that manufacturing can still continue to run on a 24X7 basis. This applies in particular as robotic devices replace manually administered equipment.

Production Support

As the manufacturing moves into the digital world, IT will increasingly be called upon to support production equipment at the same level that it supports end users. The data from this equipment will make its way to senior managers who make decisions on customer pricing, continuing existing relationships with suppliers and customers, the fate of manufacturing facilities and product lines. Our service delivery for software and infrastructure support as well as user education and assistance will need to encompass all levels within the organization from shop floor and assembly line staff to the C-suite.

IT in the Insurance Industry: Challenges in Confronting Technological Developments

A recent article from Information Age discusses how the insurance industry is struggling to keep up with technological developments. The problems include the following:

  • Relying too much on basic spreadsheets and manual data entry (as opposed to more sophisticated software and heavier reliance on automated processes)
  • Neglecting to provide customers with reliable digital solutions for accessing information or engaging in self-service 24/7
  • Struggling with shifting from legacy systems to newer IT infrastructure

These are all important issues to consider. Insurance companies need to figure out how to stay competitive in a digital world while maintaining data security, complying with regulations, and minimizing downtime and disruptions.

Other Challenges

However, beyond that, the industry also faces challenges when it comes to technological developments out in the world, such as the rise of self-driving cars. How do these developments change the way people think about insurance and interact with the industry?

For example, it’s easier than ever to collect data about people and analyze it. What’s the best use of the data? What analyses should companies perform? What are the best ways to safeguard the data, and what are the ethical considerations and regulatory guidelines that should govern its use?

Other issues involve the speed and methods in reporting and assessing accidents. For example, with buildings, vehicles, and other objects becoming increasingly Internet-enabled, it’s potentially easier to assess damage, gather evidence, and file claims. Customers will demand access to services at any time and through digital channels.

The industry will also have to accommodate rapid changes in regulations or newer areas of coverage, such as cyber security insurance. Companies will need to stay flexible and quick on their feet, capable of coming up with sound policies and changing them when needed.

As the insurance industry continues to confront and adapt to a digital world, it will need to grapple with all of these issues – not just upgrades to its own systems or workflows, but also the demands of an increasingly connected, technologically advanced society. This will require strategic planning and prioritization.